BEIRUT, Lebanon — Several prominent Iranian conservative figures and hard-line newspapers offered sharp criticism on Saturday of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who delivered a speech on Friday that assailed the government’s handling of last month’s presidential election.
Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, a conservative member of Iran’s Guardian Council and the former head of the judiciary, lashed out at Mr. Rafsanjani, saying the former president did not have the right to call for the release of arrested protesters. He also said Mr. Rafsanjani had exaggerated the role of democracy in Islamic government and thereby diminished the importance of divine sanction.
“Legitimacy and acceptance are different in Islamic government,” Ayatollah Yazdi told the semi-official Fars news agency. “Votes alone do not create legitimacy.”
In his Friday speech at Tehran University, which drew vast crowds and set off the largest opposition street demonstrations in weeks, Mr. Rafsanjani spoke at length about the central importance of democracy in Iran’s government and in Islam itself, and criticized the government’s conduct during the election and the ensuing protests.
Many in Iran believe that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory was achieved through fraud. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, blessed the results shortly after the June 12 vote, and sternly warned the protesters to move on.
Mr. Rafsanjani took issue with Ayatollah Khamenei’s position on Friday, saying the authorities must recognize and struggle to address the doubts many Iranians have about the election. But Ayatollah Yazdi suggested that Mr. Rafsanjani had himself helped spread doubt about the election, in part by writing an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei just before the election that warned of possible fraud and complained about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election tactics.
Although Ayatollah Yazdi was believed to be speaking on behalf of many of Iran’s conservative clerical leaders, there may also have been a personal element in his remarks. Mr. Rafsanjani had criticized the Guardian Council, of which Ayatollah Yazdi is a member, saying the council had not properly investigated complaints about the vote.
Also on Saturday, a number of conservative political figures attacked Mr. Ahmadinejad’s choice of a controversial ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as his first deputy, saying he should reconsider. Mr. Ahmadinejad has promoted other members of his inner circle, leading a number of conservative and reformist critics to conclude that he is not willing to make conciliatory gestures to his rivals.
Independent observers contributed reporting from Tehran.